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New owners reopen Williams Co. Store

Dan and Marnie Whitehead opened The Williams Company Store in Ottertail this week . They’re striving to maintain the charm of the original downtown shop, while making it their own and introducing a few new products. Marie Johnson/FOCUS

The Williams Company Store has just reopened under new ownership.

After shutting their doors for a few months to install some new shelves, rearrange things a little, and restock inventory, Dan and Marnie Whitehead welcomed their first customers on April 1.

Long-time fans of the distinctive store in downtown Ottertail won’t be disappointed with what the Whiteheads have done – all the old favorites are still there. Ice cream, coffee and sandwiches are offered in the deli, and the shop is stocked with its signature-style home décor, bath and body products, jewelry, and gift items.

Newly added to the mix are yarn, pet accessories, a kids’ section, additional floral offerings, equine décor, and more gourmet foods, sandwiches and wraps. The Whiteheads have been working with a professional chef on some new food combinations, and will be having occasional tastings in the store.

They’ve also designed a new store sign, logo and website. They’ve kept the name the same.

“We definitely aren’t taking things away,” assured Marnie. “We’re adding things.”

In an interview with the couple last Thursday, less than a week before the store’s opening, it was clear that much progress had been made in preparation for the big day. Most of the shelves were already stocked with neatly arranged merchandise. A few empty spots and unopened boxes, however, showed there was still work left to do.

The Whiteheads said they were expecting to have a few long days ahead of them to get things ready, and new shipments were still arriving daily.

“Every day that we wake up, we never know what’s going to come through the door,” said Marnie of the multiple packages of products dropped off at the store every morning. “Every day’s like Christmas. It’s so much fun.”

The Whiteheads have been living in the area full-time since January, when they began learning the ropes of the business from Pam Williams. Williams, the former owner of the store, has moved out of the area to spend more time with her grandchildren.

Before she left, she provided guidance to the Whiteheads, helping to ensure a smooth transition for them and the community. In her 12 years of owning the store, Williams turned it into a hub of activity in Ottertail, and she earned a reputation as a community leader. Many special events were held at the store, most notably the town’s popular annual Pumpkin Festival.

The Whiteheads said none of those events will go away under their ownership. In fact, they’d like to do even more in the way of community involvement. Marnie has already begun talking with other Ottertail business owners in an effort to coordinate store sales and events on shared dates, to draw more people to town. She and Dan have also joined the Ottertail Lions and Ottertail Business Association.

They love the community, they said: “Everybody’s been so nice.”

The Whiteheads are new full-time Ottertail residents, living right above the store, and they’re new business owners, but they’re not new to the area. The couple has owned property on East Leaf Lake for the last 16 years, and they and their two daughters, Alex and Julia, have been faithful ‘weekend residents’ ever since.

The family had been living in Burnsville, Minn., for the past 19 years, where Dan worked in the print and graphics industry and Marnie worked in home décor. When their girls got older, the couple decided they were ready for a change of pace, and they relished the opportunity to live in Ottertail full time, running their own business.

“We had a good life (in Burnsville); no regrets,” said Dan. “But it was time for a change.”

“We like being able to get to know people, getting to know our customers,” said Marnie. “You don’t get to do that as much in the Cities.”

Now that the store doors are open again, the Whiteheads are encouraging customer feedback. If there’s anything from before that’s ‘missing’ from the shelves now, or if any of the new items they’ve ordered are especially welcomed, they’d like to hear about it.

Store hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. every day, from now until May, and 8 a.m.-6 p.m. every day through the summer.

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Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Detroit Lakes Tribune in November 2017 after several years of writing and editing at the Perham Focus. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their young son and daughter, and their yellow Lab.

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